Sleep has often been called “the little death.” Many philosophers and religious leaders have speculated that sleep is the closest we humans can get to death while still alive. Dreams, therefore, are the bridge between worlds. Grand schemes have been codified, whole empires have been planned, while humans nestle, snug in their beds. I sat on the edge of Sami’s bed, watching her twitch and snort and drool, envious that I’d had yet another human experience snatched away from me.
I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t dream. I was actually regretting all the times I skipped going to bed, preferring to catch naps here and there because of some wondrous, momentous thing I was working on. Had I known then what I now knew, well, I wouldn’t very well be here, now would I? In less than twenty-four hours, I had gone from the rather ordinary life of a Master Spellcrafter and horrible daughter to the extraordinary unlife of a floating, dead thing that couldn’t access magic, not for lack of trying. Mysteries were things that happened to other people; now, I had several of them to solve. Beginning with Kenzie.
I’d sent hir home post-discussion without asking too many pesky or problematic questions of hir (or ze of me) and strict instructions to return the next day after class. Whether ze liked it or not, ze would be living with me and Sami from here on out. Not for the tired reason of “safety in numbers”; safety in numbers was a big old pile of steaming crap for everyone involved except for the guy standing in the very back, using everyone else for cannon fodder. No, Kenzie would be living with Sami and myself for one reason: to stay alive. Not that staying alive had worked for me or anything.
I covered my face with my hands and suppressed an inappropriate chuckle. If I hadn’t needed Sami so much, I swear I’d have killed her. Which delivered me to my next issue: what the hell happened on that roof?
It had been such a normal Tuesday for me. Woke up, cursed the sun, stumbled out of bed in search of a venti salted caramel macchiato to help me cope with the day. Basic hygiene practices forced me into the bathroom, still clinging to my coffee cup, taking desperate sips of the hot, overly sugared, caffeinated beverage that Sami had rushed out to buy for me. When I emerged in a cloud of steam, fresh and dressed and mostly functional, Sami dropped a greasy steak and egg sandwich in front of me on the kitchen table and went over our plans for the day. I was barely listening, until I heard something I didn’t expect to.
“…and then I looked into transmogrification of souls and…”
“Wait, wait, wait!” Sami sputtered to a stop and looked at me askance. “You looked into the what of what? No, no, no, no, no, no,” I admonished her, shaking my head. I reached for a paper napkin, and wiped grease off of my lips. “You’re only up to levitation. Leave the heavy weight stuff alone for another year or five.”
Sami pushed her glasses higher on her nose with a frown. “I’m ready for this, Kiera; I know I am!”
“Samilla, the last time you told me you were ready to try something advanced, you blew a hole in my favorite apple tree.”
“You turned your hair orange trying to make it grow,” I added.
“That-that wasn’t my fault,” she argued. Her eyes darted from side to side. “I got distracted.” She began to fidget, twisting her fingers into shapes and half-complete signs.
“You tried to create a gentle breeze in the garden and called up a mini tornado,” I continued, now ticking off items on my fingers. “You mistook the word ‘shelter’ for ‘shallow’ and opened up a sinkhole in the backyard. You unraveled your sweater trying to change the color of it, and you turned my hair green trying to make me a hat.” I shook my head vigorously. “Today, we practice the levitation of inanimate objects, hopefully nothing expensive or difficult to replace.” I sighed as her bottom lip curled in on itself. “Samilla, you have an abundance of power, but you lack control. You have to practice the smaller scale things first. Once you have a handle on those, you can move on to bigger and better things.”
“You’re blowing me off!” she whined. “I came here to learn.”
“Who is the Master Spellcrafter here?” I demanded, using my big voice. Sami winced and unconsciously took two steps away from me, nearly crashing into the sink.
“You are, Master,” she said, casting her eyes downward. Her voice was barely above a whisper. I could see a slight tremor in her limbs. I flicked my gaze to the clock on the wall and stifled a groan. It was much too early for the amount of ego-stroking needed to get Sami in the right frame of mind. I supposed if I’d been raised in an antimagic environment like she had, I’d be a bit skittish about my screw-ups, as well.
“Look,” I sighed. “You may have harassed me greatly, but, in the end, I chose to take you on as my apprentice. I went against Her Royal Blueness for this. I’m not going to tell you to be grateful or anything so trite. I am, however, going to remind you that I have achieved Master status, and I recognize your potential. Bear with me, please.”
Sami straightened her back and shoulders in a hurry. “You won’t regret this! I will be the best apprentice you’ve ever had!”
“You’re the only apprentice I’ve ever had,” I mumbled. I glanced down and sneered at the remains of my breakfast. Shoving the black plate away from me, I stood, yawned, stretched, belched, and scratched an itch in an unmentionable place. My mother would have been appalled if she could have seen me in that moment. Good thing she was on the other side of the country, then. I nodded to Sami. “Let’s get down to the workshop,” I told her. I turned toward the basement door set in the wall behind the table and wrenched it open. As I started down the stairs in my bare feet, I heard the sound of my plate clattering into the sink and Sami’s footsteps shuffling behind me.
My workshop is the only serious clue that my house doesn’t belong to an ordinary, mundane type of human. If the stone pillars, carved with sigils, symbols, and runes didn’t tip visitors off, the four altars, one in each corner of the large space, should. Any lingering doubt would be whisked away by the incomplete salt and stone circle in the center of the room. I’d helpfully left extra stones and a bowl of salt right near the opening for quick closure when needed. Metal shelving units lined the walls, holding books, bowls, crystals, and various herbs and powders. It had taken me years to get everything set up just the way it needed to be. I stood for a moment, just looking around and taking it all in. Sami, as usual, walked right into me because she was too busy gawking.
“Do you mind?”
“Sorry,” Sami said. “It’s just … it’s always so…”
I nodded. “Ain’t it, though?” I jerked my head toward the circle. “Go sit in there. I’ll bring you what you need.”
Sami slipped her purple fuzzy slippers off and placed them on the rack just inside the doorway. She padded to the circle on sock-clad feet, carefully stepped inside, and settled her body onto the floor. She crossed her legs, and dropped her twisting, tumbling hands into her lap. There was something about the way her hands were moving that bothered me, but I couldn’t put my finger on what. I yawned again, wondering why I felt so sluggish this morning. With the moon so close to being full, I should have been jittery with excitement and brimming with power. I squinted at her hands again. Something …
My vision blurred with tears as I yawned so hard that I heard my jaw creak. No matter; we’d get this lesson done, I’d take a nap, and then we could visit the highest point of the city to perfect the newest spell I was working on.
I grabbed a handful of marble-sized stones from a shelf and walked to the circle. I lowered myself to the floor, placing the stones into a small pile between Sami and myself. Grabbing a couple of the larger stones outside of the circle with one hand and a fistful of salt with the other, I closed the circle. I felt the power swell up inside of me with a dull thrum that began somewhere around my toes and raced its way through my body. I inhaled sharply, then released the breath, slowly. I eyed Sami, observing the way she twitched when the power hit her. A slight frown creased my eyebrows. A slippery, nagging thought surfaced at the back of my mind, but I couldn’t grab it.
“Here,” I said to my apprentice. “Look carefully at the little rocks. Get a good picture of them in your mind. Got it? Good. Now, close your eyes. Focus on one of them, say, the little brown one. See it? Push it with your power.”
I watched carefully, dividing my attention between the pile of rocks, Sami’s puckered look of concentration, and holding the circle closed. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to Sami and not everything else, because as soon as I tried to grab that slippery thought in my head, every rock inside of the circle exploded into bits.